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College Basketball: The Four Seasons
by Bryan Leonard - 01/26/2011
There are four seasons packed into a college basketball year: Non-conference play, conference play, conference tournament time and postseason action (NIT and March Madness). Each has unique attributes. Non-conference action starts off the year where teams are getting acquainted with new personnel and facing many schools they've never played before. Conference action finds teams battling for positioning against teams they face two or three times every year, while tournament time in February and March focuses on winning the conference title, having a winning season, and positioning their team for an invite to various dances.
We are in phase two right now, conference play. Conference play is unique in that schools are not traveling as much. A few years ago, North Carolina opened the season at Santa Clara, meaning a team from the southeast was traveling all the way across the country. After which the Tar Heels took on teams from the Big 10, Mountain West, the SEC and the Pac 10. That is a lot of travel time as well as facing teams they had never seen before. This makes matchups often difficult and upsets more likely (North Carolina lost 77-66 at Santa Clara as a 13-point favorite).
Conference play means playing teams in your region, which cuts down significantly on travel time. It also means players are facing other players they've seen last year, probably several times, and playing in facilities they have seen before. Home/road play is certainly a key element for handicappers to pay attention to, but with shorter distances and familiar places to go to, it can be less a factor with certain teams because they've been to the opposition's gym before.
I recall one season Buffalo off the MAC came off an impressive win over Eastern Michigan, followed by a close 84-82 loss in overtime at a very good Northern Illinois squad. Buffalo got the cover in both games. The Bulls were experienced and not caught off guard by these teams, because Buffalo had beaten both a year ago. In fact, the prior season Buffalo beat Northern Illinois twice, 86-80 at home and again in the MAC tournament, 73-66. That's three games against each other in less than a year. Familiarity may breed contempt in some social circles, but it helps in preparation in college basketball.
As conference play continues this month, it's important to look back at how these teams did in recent years, especially with teams loaded with seniors. Another example could be a team with a significant rebounding advantage in the frontcourt taking on a team with a small frontcourt. Again, go back and look at recent games. Did they own the glass the last meeting? How about the last three meetings? Conference play offers many opportunities to do this, especially with teams facing each other two and even three times a year ago.